Clampers celebrate ‘Jackass Mail’ at Genoa Bar
April 16, 2018
First, look for a group of men all wearing red shirts. If they have vests covered with buttons, are having a rollicking good time, and appear to be discussing matters of great importance, you have found them. They are the Snowshoe Thompson Chapter of E Clampus Vitus, doing what they do best.
These "Clampers," as they are commonly known, dedicate their time and service to local organizations(like the Food Bank of Northern Nevada), support their members throughout their lives, and have an intense passion for recognizing local history by installing plaques and monuments of local significance. They are a light-hearted society, highlighted by both respect for preserving the record of the past and a determined dedication to investing in the future in a positive way. They find a convivial joy and camaraderie in all of it. If you are a member of ECV, you are somewhat irreverent, stepping away from more traditional fraternal societies to focus on a more real connection between "the brethren".
Historian Frank Tortorich has written that Utah became a territory and California became the 31st state on Sept 9, 1850. A mail route between the two was one of the United States first priorities. People were heading out to California in droves to find their fortunes in the gold fields.
Originally from Pennsylvania, George Chorpenning and Absalom Woodward signed a contract with the United States Post Office for $14,000. In 1851, that was a huge sum of money. They were to set up mail service between Sacramento, Calif., and Salt Lake City, Utah. Their agreement stated that the mail would be delivered every 30 days.
Since it was along the route, Chorpenning staked a section of land and set up a mail station in Genoa. John Reese purchased the log cabin now known as "Mormon Station" the same year. It became a well-known supply house for emigrants. At that time, Genoa was a hub of bustling activity and travelers.
Using a mule train, they soon became known as "The Jackass Express" or "Jackass Mail." Although Chorpenning continued to renew the contract until 1860, poor Woodward was killed in Utah while leading the mule team the very first year of operation. On his own, Chorpenning was continually besieged by difficulties, the most significant of which was having to cross the mountains in the dead of winter. He had animals freeze to death, employees quit, and a hard time getting contracts renewed. Financial problems plagued him, and he struggled to pay his debts. Despite these hardships, he secured his place in history, creating the route that would later become the renowned Pony Express.
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The Clampers installed a plaque honoring the Jackass Mail at the Genoa Bar.
The Snowshoe Chapter of ECV spans from Genoa to Alpine County. Their historical markers can show up anywhere in our geographic area, choosing locations after extensive research and weighing of the sites importance. Their "Doins"–the day of the dedication–included inducting new members in a ritual handed down through the Clamper ranks since their inception. They have said that the first Clamper was Adam in the Garden of Eden, but it was Ephraim Bee who made the group known on the soil of the United States. This event included a history lesson presented by Brandon Wilding, prior "Grand Humbug" in 2016 (the highest honor bestowed upon the yearly elected leader). For more information on other historic locations and the society, head to sst-ecv.com. It is just as easy to find the oldest bar, in the oldest town in Nevada, right in the heart of Genoa. When you go to see the plaque, take a minute to picture a rugged team of mules lining up, preparing to take the mail over the daunting Sierra Nevada mountain passes in a blinding snowstorm. Around you, history will fill the air as you pause to raise your glass in a toast to all of those who have lived in this remarkable Valley.